Month: August 2014

Loftus Helps Guide the NYU Bobcats on the Court

Loftus Coaching

When History major Cassie Loftus ’08 attended Saint Anselm College, she played for the women’s basketball squad, becoming team captain during her junior and senior years. After leaving Saint Anselm College, Loftus served as an assistant coach at both Springfield College and Williams College. She is now the assistant coach for the New York University women’s basketball team. One Thing after Another recently asked Loftus to share what she was up to.

Q: How and why did you decide to become a history major?

A: I started as a Journalism major and then changed to Political Science. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I love the study of politics. I’m fascinated with the people who participate in politics, and I enjoy the media buzz that surrounds them. But I also enjoyed the structure of History classes; there was discussion and a constant exchange of ideas that I didn’t necessarily get in math or sciences classes.

Q: Why did you transfer from Brandeis to St. A’s?

A: In my initial college search, I wanted to find a place where I could immerse myself in an athletic as well as an academic experience. While I appreciated the opportunity to be at such a great academic institution like Brandeis, I didn’t feel as though I could get the experience I was looking for. I do not believe I made a mistake, though. I learned a lot about humility, balance in life, and how to have the courage to be happy. I still have a great relationship with friends and coaches at Brandeis, but I just knew it wasn’t the best fit for me. I am so thankful for that one year because it helped me decipher so much about the collegiate experience I really wanted.

Q: When did you decide that you wanted to coach basketball? How did you go about placing yourself on a career path that led to coaching collegiate women’s basketball?

A: I didn’t realize I wanted to be a basketball coach until my junior year of college. I had always considered myself a student of the game because, believe it or not, I was undersized, a step slow, and had to really work hard to make an impact on my team. I was lucky to have some excellent coaches throughout my career and wanted to help shape others experiences the same way they helped me. Young women need positive role models who are strong in body, mind, and spirit, and I hope that every day I can be that for the young women who play for our program. There is no direct path into coaching, and it is pretty hard to get your foot in the door. Lucky for me, I had somebody take a chance who saw my potential and that I was willing to work hard to gain experience. My coach from Brandeis actually hooked me up with one of her coaching colleagues at Springfield College . . . and the rest is history!

Q: The great majority of our majors go into fields that have nothing to do with history. Yet many seem to find their study of history useful to their careers. Has that been the case with you? If so, how?

A: The history major at St. A’s prepared me to communicate well, think critically, and to view the world with a set of eyes that penetrate beneath the surface. As a college coach, there is much value in these skills. In practices, games, team meetings, and in recruiting I am required to hone these skills. NYU is a place that puts a great deal of emphasis on global awareness, and we have many international students. We also have eleven campuses across the globe with several more to come in the near future. I believe my background in history helps me understand that I have so much to learn about NYU’s student body and where they come from. I am intrigued by the diversity and can appreciate that there is so much to be learned from it!

Q: You grew up in Nashua, started your undergraduate studies at Brandeis University, finished at St. A’s, and went off to coach at Springfield College and thence to Williams College. After living and studying in a number of medium-sized towns, was Manhattan something of a shock?

A: There is no place like NYC! There is a vibrancy and beauty to all the chaos. Before I came, I had a very naïve perception of the Big Apple and saw it as a big traffic jam. There is a unique character to every neighborhood, subway line, and coffee shop. What a fool I was to think it was ALL yellow taxi’s and skyscrapers! In a city of 8 million people, there is an individual relationship each of us gets to have with the place. It is rich in history and in that way feels like an adult playground. I feel so lucky that every day I grab a coffee on Broadway and head in to work to coach college basketball. It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but I am crossing streets and hailing cabs with the best of them! The ultimate compliment is when people stop and ask me for directions because it appears as though I am a “real New Yorker!”

Q: Nashua, New Hampshire is the only town in the United States to be named “Best Place to Live in America” twice by Money magazine (1987 and 1997). Was Nashua (“land between two rivers” in the language of the Penacook people) really all that? Why?

A: Nashua is one hour from the ocean, one hour from the lakes and mountains, and one hour from Boston (YES I am a Red Sox fan, and NO amount of time in New York City will ever change that). Nashua is a diverse city because of its proximity to Boston. I grew up with kids who came from literally nothing and also with kids who seemed to have everything. There were families from all over the world. I went to a very large high school with 3,999 other students. We had more students than St. A’s! I love where I am from, despite all the jokes about cow tipping and the misconception that we are rural. Plus, it was only 15 minutes from Saint Anselm College so every game was a home game.

Loftus with Magic Johnson Final

“Inventories of War”: From the Battle of Hastings to Counterinsurgency in Helmand Province

Somme Kit 1916

As part of its commemoration of World War I, the Daily Telegraph‘s web site posted the following which shows graphically how the “typical” English soldier’s kit evolved from that of an Anglo-Saxon housecarl who fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to a present-day sapper in the Royal Engineers stationed in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Such a striking photo essay provides an opportunity for thinking about history, especially the extent to which we resemble our ancestors.

It is hard to make generalizations about soldiers or the trajectory of history based on these kits because they are not exactly comparable. An archer who fought at Agincourt (1415) was not the equivalent of a Yorkist man-at-arms at Bosworth (1485). And the medieval knights who fought at the siege of Jerusalem in 1244 undoubtedly enjoyed much higher social status than the fusiliers who fought under the Duke of Marlborough at Malplaquet (1709). Still, some of the continuities are striking, and Thom Atkinson, who put this collection together, repeatedly points out the similarities between soldiers from different periods. For example, he writes, “While the First World War was the first modern war, as the Somme kit illustrates, it was also primitive. Along with his gas mask a private would be issued with a spiked ‘trench club’ – almost identical to medieval weapons.” In the next frame, he writes, “The Anglo-Saxon warrior at Hastings is perhaps not so very different from the British “Tommy” in the trenches [during World War I].” The caption for the Yorkist man-at-arms at Bosworth states, “‘There’s a spoon in every picture. . . . I think that’s wonderful. The requirement of food, and the experience of eating, hasn’t changed in 1,000 years. It’s the same with warmth, water, protection, entertainment.” Later, while commenting about the private’s kit at Malplaquet, he writes, “Watching everything unfold, I begin to feel that we really are the same creatures with the same fundamental needs.” Moreover, it’s not merely what Atkinson writes but how he writes it. He implicitly compares the Yorkist man-at-arms to the Royal Marines who helped win the Falklands’ war against Argentina in 1982 by stating, “From the cumbersome armour worn by a Yorkist man-at-arms in 1485 to the packs yomped into Port Stanley on the backs of Royal Marines five centuries later, the literal burden of a soldier’s endeavour is on view”–as if to say there is a kind of correspondence between one and the other. Even when Atkinson discusses differences, they morph into similarities. While writing about the kit of the trained caliverman who prepared to repulse the Spanish Armada in 1588, Atkinson claims, “The similarities between the kits are as startling as the differences. Notepads become iPads, 18th-century bowls mirror modern mess tins; games such as chess or cards appear regularly.” In other words, almost every item today has some sort of medieval or early modern antecedent. And, indeed, the various kits are presented as part of a single evolution. The “bolt-action Lee-Enfield” rifle that was the standard weapon of the infantryman in 1916 becomes the precursor of the “laser-sighted light assault carbine” of the sapper in Afghanistan in 2014. Likewise, “the pocket watch of 1916 is today a waterproof digital wristwatch.”

In this context, it seems like a good idea to refer to the thoughts with which John Lynn, one of America’s leading military historians, opens Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (2003). Lynn pays tribute to the ways in which warfare has remained constant over time. The soldier, he argues, has always been the perpetrator and victim of “havoc and suffering.” Fear, discomfort, danger, and death have ever been the lot of the soldier who is required to display “endurance, self-sacrifice, and heroism.” For those reasons, we have a tendency, Lynn claims, to see this “universal soldier” as an “unchanging agent of pillage, destruction, and death,” an “eternal, faceless killer.” When we look at soldiers through the ages from this perspective, we convince ourselves that “only weapons and tactics have changed, not the men who have wielded them.” This perspective seems to be precisely the one that Atkinson has chosen. Atkinson’s survey of kit seems to indicate that all soldiers are more or less the same, regardless of the era in which they lived; only the weapons are different.

Yet, as Lynn argues, the soldier is not universal in either time or space. Every soldier is the product of a distinct culture that believed different things and tried to live up to different values. Lynn stresses that “one culture’s bravery is another’s bravado and one’s mercy is another’s meekness.” Just because the Anglo-Saxon housecarl who fought under King Harold at Hastings had a spoon doesn’t mean he was at all like the lance corporal who was dropped over Arnhem with the 1st Parachute Brigade in 1944. While both men may have subscribed to a code of honor, those codes would have been extremely different. Each, of course, was generated by a society that had very little in common with the other. That they were both soldiers makes them part of a guild of sorts, but it is certainly not enough to make them the same

This matter points to a larger issue with which all historians struggle constantly. There is a fundamental consistency in human nature. Across the ages, we have worked, we have loved, and we have played. And when we study the work, love, and play of people from the past, we see something of ourselves in our forbears. When we see that the Anglo-Saxon housecarl had a spoon, we delight in the discovery because we, too, have spoons, and we feel a kind of kinship. Some years ago, the blog master went to the Museum of Science in Boston to see an exhibit on Roman artifacts recovered from Pompeii. He was stunned at how modern-looking Roman plumbing was, particularly the spigots, and he felt a closeness to the Romans that he had never sensed before. Yet we cannot make the mistake of thinking that housecarls and Roman plumbers were just like us. Their work, love, and play (which oftentimes was very different from ours) did not signify the same things to them as our work, love, and play signify to us.

The job of the historian, then, is almost impossible. It does not consist of pointing out how earlier peoples were like us. Rather, the historian seeks to translate these earlier peoples to contemporary readers and students. The impossibility of the task has to do with the act of translation. The Anglo-Saxon had a spoon much like ours, but the food the Anglo-Saxon ate, as well as the way in which eating fit in his peculiar culture and society, is almost incomprehensible to us. The historian must somehow bridge the gap between this incomprehensible world and ours, but using our language and our ideas–tools that are not always well suited to the job. In other words, scholars are in the business of rendering the alien familiar, and that is a hard row to hoe.

Studying History While Studying Abroad, or: How to Visit Cuba Without Breaking the Law

Several of the students we’ve featured on One Thing after Another studied abroad while they were enrolled at Saint Anselm College. And many faculty in the history department have spent considerable time abroad either as undergraduates, in graduate school, or since arriving at Saint Anselm College. Although going abroad is not a requirement for learning about the past, it can influence our historical thinking in important ways. For one thing, spending time abroad can help us to understand the social and cultural conditions that shaped—and were shaped by—a country’s history. Moreover, students who venture outside of the United States have access to resources that we simply don’t have at home: numerous faculty experts who specialize in local history or archives with rare and hard-to-find sources. And there is something about being in a place that changes one’s perspective. It is one thing to read about Versailles, the Berlin Wall, or Tiananmen Square. It is something else entirely to roam the halls where French monarchs lived, see the concrete remnants of the old barrier between East and West Berlin, or gaze upon a public space where a million students protested against oppression and hundreds or thousands died in a military crackdown.

Understanding the value of studying abroad, the history department has organized several study abroad programs in recent years. In 2011 and again in 2013, Professor Masur brought a group of students to Vietnam during winter break. As the students themselves explained, even a rather brief visit to Vietnam profoundly affected their understanding of contemporary Vietnam, the Vietnam War, and Vietnam’s history outside of its conflict with the United States. Professor Perrone had a similar experience when he brought students to China. His program included visits to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Bund in Shanghai.

Vietnam Study Abroad

Saint Anselm students at the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The tunnels were used as a base for the National Liberation Front (NLF) during the Vietnam War.

During the spring semester 2015, the history department is planning another exciting short-term study abroad program. As part of Professor Pajakowski and Professor Masur’s team-taught course on the Cold War, students will have the opportunity to participate in a week-long study trip to Cuba during spring break (March 1-March 8). The program in Cuba will supplement in-class material by exploring Cuba’s important role in the U.S.-Soviet rivalry. Students will learn about Castro’s rise to power, Cuba’s alliance with the Soviets, and the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The program will include an overnight trip to the Bay of Pigs, site of the CIA-orchestrated attempt to unseat Castro in 1961. Students will also gain a greater understanding of current Cuban politics and social and economic conditions in the country.

Cuba Trip 2

 Street Scene, Havana, Cuba

Professors Pajakowski and Masur will have more information about the trip in the next couple of weeks. Students who are interested in the program should plan to enroll in Hi 399: The Cold War in the spring semester. (Note: students will have the option of taking Hi 399 without participating in the Cuba trip.) We are estimating that the program will cost $2,660, not including airfare to Miami, the cost of some meals in Cuba, and spending money. (We will have a more detailed cost breakdown by the end of August).

Weybrew: Communication is a Basic History Skill

Lauren Weybrew

Lauren Weybrew ’08 graduated as a History major but ended up working for a communications firm in New York. As Lauren’s experience demonstrates, many people assume that a history degree automatically leads to teaching. Yet as her experience also demonstrates, such is not the case. Indeed, only 20% of the department’s alums end up teaching at one point or another. One Thing after Another asked Lauren about her job and how it related to her training in history.

Q: What made you decide to be a history major?

A: Growing up, I was the girl who was more than happy to spend family vacations wandering around Mt. Vernon and Hyde Park, so it was not surprising that I ended up majoring in history. My one hesitation about the major was the fact that everyone assumed I’d go on to be a teacher or go to law school. I didn’t have the patience or desire to work with children or go back to school–but I felt that there was more I could do with a history degree.

Q: How did you get into the field of communication?

A: After an internship in the Office of Communications and Marketing at Saint Anselm College, I knew that my next step would be a move to New York City to work in the communications field. I felt really well prepared with my degree and ready for my next step.

Fast forward almost six years later, and I’m an associate at a strategic communications firm in New York City that works exclusively with nonprofits and foundations. We help nonprofits of all sizes plan and execute communications strategies to achieve their goals and move their missions. I feel very fulfilled in my work, and it is my ‘dream job’–as corny as that sounds.

Q: Some students might think you need a Communication degree for your type of job.  How did a history major prepare you?

A: I am consistently and happily surprised by how well my history degree prepared me for my career. A large part of what I do requires digesting dense, technical information (medical information, legal information, etc.) and repackaging it into easy-to-read, engaging content for a wide variety of audiences. All of the reading and processing I did in college prepared me for this in a way I didn’t expect. Plus, all of the writing helped a great deal as well!

Some of the other skills honed by my history degree include the ability to be a strategic thinker and look at the entire scope of a project or campaign, rather than just one event or one tactic.

I think back to my history classes all the time, especially as I see something on the news or come across a topic in my work that relates to something I learned while at Saint Anselm College. I have a background level of knowledge on so many key issues thanks to my history classes, and it’s a great feeling. Looking back, some of my favorite classes included Professor Moore’s reading seminar on Jimmy Carter, Professor Pajakowski’s Crime and Punishment in Europe class, and Professor Dubrulle’s absolutely epic World War II course.

Q: If you could give history majors a piece of advice, what would it be?

A: I would tell them to think outside the box–don’t feel that you have to get an MA or be a teacher. History provides such flexibility and so many skills that are an asset to any career path–communications included!